Indiana cornerback coach Brandon Shelby has seen it before.
A breakout freshman campaign, followed by glowing media coverage, and a regression in year two.
When it comes to standout Hoosier corner Tiawan Mullen, Shelby is doing everything he can to avoid that letdown.
Mullen has already proven that he can compete on the Big Ten stage mentally and athletically. The physical gifts and mental toughness are undeniably there, and Shelby has seen the expected praise heaped in Mullen’s direction.
“He comes from an athletic family,” Shelby said of Mullen on a Zoom conference this week. “He does a lot of great things and he has had a lot of press clippings.”
One example of those press clippings?
Pro Football Focus recently described Mullen as “one of the best true freshman cornerbacks we have ever seen.”
That is the kind of thing that can go to a young player’s head.
And Shelby is keenly focused on making sure that doesn’t happen.
The solution? Raise the expectations, and turn the athlete and competitor into a master technician.
“I have to coach him even harder about the little things, where are his feet, his eyes, his hand placement,” Shelby said on a Zoom conference this week. “I am a lot harder on him because, at the end of the day, a lot of players that have a successful freshman year usually fall into a sophomore slump.”
And that is exactly why Shelby is pushing his star pupil hard.
A former All-Big 12 corner himself at Oklahoma, Shelby knows what it takes to get a little more out of one’s natural abilities.
And Shelby is laser focused on maximizing every bit of Mullen’s potential during his time at IU. It starts with holding Mullen to a higher standard.
“When he messes up he might get 50 yards of up-downs, while someone else might only get 10,” Shelby said.
For his part, Mullen embraces Shelby’s approach.
With his brother (Trayvon) and cousin (Lamar Jackson) both in the NFL, Mullen knows what it takes to reach his ultimate goals.
And it isn’t a sophomore slump.
Mullen wants to be pushed harder. And just like his coach, the fiery 5-foot-10 corner is raising the standard.
“What I did last year, it was great and everything,” Mullen said. “But with Coach Shelby behind me, I need to push harder.
“I know his (Shelby’s) expectations, so he doesn’t need to push or yell at me. Just doing whatever I need to do for the team, reach the team goals and whatever accolades that’s out there for me will come after we reach the team goals.”
Mullen recognizes that there is plenty he can do to improve.
At the top of the list — reading opposing offenses.
“Pushing forward, there are a lot of things I can fix to become a better player, like knowing what routes the receivers are going to run, knowing whatever formation they get in, knowing what’s coming. That’s something me and my brother talk about, Mullen said.
“Me and Coach Shelby talk a lot about knowing the next step, knowing the next play and knowing the check call that’s coming and knowing what’s coming ahead of time.”
Mullen already led the Big Ten in pass breakups as a freshman with 13.
How much can be achieved if he masters all of the details?
That remains to be seen, but Shelby knows he has a star with the pedigree and upbringing to achieve just about anything.
“He takes great coaching and has been pushed since he was a little boy, Shelby said.
“This is second nature to him. He loves football. When you get that DNA, it is awesome to coach. We just push him, hold him to a different standard and hopefully God will keep blessing him and he will keep rising like he has thus far.”
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